Thursday, February 9, 2012

Root Vegetables in Spaghetti Sauce

Sure, the sun is getting higher in the sky and I’m beginning to crave those lovely fresh green things that are still months away, but I’m not too sad about the inevitable persistence of winter just yet. That’s because I’m still grooving on roots and tubers, those sweet and starchy winter storage vegetables. This week, I put them in my spaghetti sauce. (Which I served with penne instead of spaghetti.)

This might seem like an unusual place to use a parsnip or a rutabaga, but I got the idea from a recipe in Recipes from the Root Cellar by Andrea Chesman. The winter vegetables are slowly braised in a tomato sauce, taking up residence where you might usually find bell peppers or even eggplant and zucchini. There’s also a whole, lovely, delicious head of garlic left in whole cloves that cook down to a buttery, rich and very welcome addition to this wonderful sauce.

The original recipe called for celeriac (aka celery root), but they’re hard for me to find after early January. Rutabagas, on the other hand, are forever, and I love them, so I put half of a large, sweet one in my sauce. The vegetables need to be very finely chopped in order to cook in anything like a timely fashion, so I followed Chesman’s advice and went at them with a food processor. This worked really well. In addition to significantly reducing the workload for this recipe, it also allowed the vegetables to almost melt into a moderately chunky sauce.

The sweetness of the carrot and parsnip nicely balances the acidity of the tomatoes and red wine, and the more complex flavor of the rutabaga gives the sauce a unique and delicious richness. The garlic is garlic, wonderful, wonderful garlic, nicely mellowed by the long, slow cooking. I won’t say “no” to garlic.

This sauce takes a long time to cook (at least 2 hours), but once you get the vegetables peeled and coarsely chopped, there’s little left to do but wait for them to simmer. There’s a lot of sauce in this recipe, and I currently have some in the freezer to test whether I can store it effectively there long-term. (I can only go so many days in a row with leftovers.) I really like this stuff, and hope to make it one of my winter go-tos. If nothing else, it’s a delicious way to use up some lingering roots. Even if I have to admit that it is an unusual place to use a rutabaga.

Tomato Sauce with Root Vegetables
Adapted from Recipes from the Root Cellar by Andrea Chesman

The amount of added salt needed will likely depend on the amount already present in the canned tomatoes and tomato paste. Taste the sauce and adjust for salt as you like it.

1 medium carrot, peeled
1 medium parsnip, peeled
1 small to medium rutabaga (or half of a large one), peeled
1 medium yellow onion, peeled
¼ cup olive oil, preferably extra-virgin
1 head garlic, about 10 medium cloves, separated, peeled and left whole
1 ½ cups water
1 cup dry red wine (I used a Cabernet-Merlot blend)
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste if desired
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
cooked pasta of your choice for serving
grated Parmesan cheese for serving

1. Coarsely chop the carrot, parsnip, rutabaga and onion. Place them in a food processor fitted with a chopping blade and pulse until very finely chopped, but not completely pulverized. Remove any larger chunks of vegetables and cut finer by hand if desired.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the finely chopped vegetables and cook, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables have begun to soften. Add the garlic cloves and cook, stirring, one minute more.

3. Stir in the water and scrape up any browned bits that may have formed on the bottom of the pan (I had few if any). Add the wine, tomato paste, tomatoes, bay leaves, basil, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir to combine and bring to a boil.

4. Cover, reduce the heat and boil gently, stirring occasionally, for 2- 2 ½ hours, or until the vegetables are very soft and practically melted into the sauce. Taste for salt and other seasonings and adjust as desired. Seek out, remove, and discard the bay leaves. Serve with hot cooked pasta (I used penne rigate this time) and a generous grating of Parmesan cheese.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Pasta with Shredded Winter Vegetables, Simple Tomato-Garlic Sauce, Pizza Sauce

One year ago: Soup Beans

Two years ago: Bittersweet Almond Amaretto Truffles


  1. I made this exact Recipe - and will be making it my usual spaghetti sauce from here on out. Fantastic turn out, perfect consistency! Goes well with ground turkey meat or Bison.

  2. Fabulous! I love the idea of adding your favorite protein.